We found you know who’s own rockery – stunning!
Wed, 10 March 2004:
Early morning at the Nomad office in Long Street found a group of sleepy, shy, new “nomaders” drinking coffee and warily eyeing each other up. I found out on my return that cousin Kate felt dreadful leaving me there, like leaving an infant at boarding school – thankfully the group didn’t turn out too bad.
We boarded Marley, our truck, and headed up along the coast to Bloubergstrand for a beaut view of Table Top Mountain and to stock up, then turned inland through Swartland and on up to Cederberg, a very beautiful, fertile area, producing mostly citrus fruit. We camped at Gekko Backpackers, Clanwilliam, a great place run by a couple of cool guys, Frans and Peter. We swam in the pool, created by drawing on underground water, and ate mangos straight from the trees.
Thurs, 11 March 2004:
Our early departure was somewhat delayed by Marley needing a bit of TLC, a bump start and then, due to resting up against the telephone pole, a jump start from Peter’s little VW van. We finally hit the long road up to Orange River, stopping off at Springbok (reminded me a lot of Alice Springs) for supplies including an obligatory stop at the bottle shop. Lunch was taken in the shade of a flyover – things did get more romantic as the journey progressed;)
The drive was worth it once we arrived at Fiddlers Creek camp at Vioolsdrif. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Orange River, the bar and shower/loo blocks are thatched with fabulous views across the river to Namibia and its backdrop of red mountains. Despite the view, the worry of huge spiders dropping down out of the thatch ensured that I kept my visits to the facilities as short as possible.
Apparently the mountains in the area contain a lot of iron and are responsible for the incredible red of the sand dunes further up the coast at Sossusvlei. The iron is washed down the Orange River into the Atlantic, drawn up the coast by the cold Benguela Current, absorbed by the air and deposited over the dunes.
Introducing the Nomaders: The team consists of Charles, our trustworthy driver, Bruce, our mega-energetic and informative guide, and Rulize, an apprentice guide with the sweetest wake-up voice you could wish for. The latter two have a thing about dogs and insist that there’s no nicer way to fall asleep than with your arms wrapped around one … whatever you say guys! Then there’s us lot consisting of the Icemen, G + Hawk, the Irish, Orla, Rebecca and Niamh, the Dutch, Wendy, Lise, Vera and Lu, one South African, Aylin, lots of Germans, Ina, Eric, Janne, Per, Michael, Markus, Kirstin, Katha, Andrea, Corrine and Nadine, one American, Alden, one Brit, Ed, and me.
Fri, 12 March 2004:
The day was spent lazily kayaking, drifting and swimming 10km down the river. We had lunch on the Namibian side under the shade of about the only tree visible for miles and only narrowly missed being ambushed by pirate children, who were after food. One group of Nomaders took a longer route down river and spent the night on the banks under the stars. The idea of scorpions and spiders sort of put me off taking that option. Rulize made us a great dinner and, after a couple of hours at the bar fighting off the bugs, we hit the sack early.
Sat, 13 March 2004:
A very long, hot drive down a road that stretched endlessly into the distant horizon. At midday we stopped in the middle of the desert. Bruce sent us off, alone and each in a different direction, with strict orders to keep walking straight and to come back after about 20 minutes. I think he had a theory that those with bad music taste also have a bad sense of direction and might thus be disposed of. Fortunately our interest in the few bushes and the many grains of sand close by prevented us venturing too far from Marley and we all made it back safely. It was incredibly hot, just sand, distant hills and mirages on the horizon with very few indications of life to the, as yet, uninitiated. Plantlife consists of the Quiver Tree, so named because the bushmen use the insides of the branches as a quiver for their arrows, and “pencil” bushes, which contain strichnine and are used by the bushmen to poison their arrows.
We finally arrived at Fish River Canyon and took a much deserved swim, venting our energy in a wild game of ball in a self-created whirlpool. We then went up to the canyon which, at 161 km long and 20-odd wide, is the second largest in the world. Walking from one lookout to the next, we watched the sun set and black shadows creep across the floor and up the walls of the canyon, while two huge eagles in silhouette floated on the thermals. We had a sundowner and waited until the stars revealed themselves. Out in the middle of nowhere, with no competition for light, it was almost impossible to distinguish them in their multitude. Bruce showed us the Magellan Clouds, as well as a black hole which is visible to the naked eye just below the righthand tip of the Southern Cross.
It was here that I felt that surge of emotion which captivated me two years ago, and I felt at peace, knowing that this is where I want to be. The full force of nature is omnipresent, the colours, contrasts, harshness and beauty breathtaking.
Sun, 14 March 2004:
A 6am rise caught the sun bringing colouring in the scenery and chasing the shadows back into their hidey holes. Quite soon after leaving Fish River Canyon we saw springbok, ostrich and a small herd of Burchell’s zebra, apparently unusual this far south. We stopped at Bethanien to shop and tried not to panic at the bottle shop being closed – Sunday. Relief when our resourceful Icemen found ice at the supermarket. I also got my very own saucepan as the others are all meateaters.
The road to Sesriem was framed by long stretches of flat-topped mountains followed by fields of soft, silvery grasses and big, dark mountain ranges. Marley decided to break down about 5km before camp at Sesriem. Fortunately the timely arrival of Frans the Bushman and his buccie saved us from blindly wandering off through the desert in search of the ice-cold beers and swimming pool that we knew to be so close.
To our great relief, Bruce, Charles and a patched-up Marley turned up around 8pm, not that we were hungry or worried about sleeping out in the open amongst the scorpions;) This misadventure and our long wait, drinking beer by the pool, finally broke the ice and the Nomaders became a united front. Just as well in view of Katha’s warring which ensued the following day …
Birds spotted to date that I could (sort of) identify: Cormorant (whitebreasted or reed?), Heron (grey or blackheaded?), Hadeda Ibis, Eagle (only saw it in silhouette at Fish River Canyon, but based on size and shape of wing and tail guess it to be a Verreaux’s Black Eagle), some sort of swift, Pied Kingfisher, Oxpecker, Common House Martin, Pied Crow, Sociable Weaver, Woollynecked Stork, Pelican … enough twitching, I lack the experience and eyesight.
Mon, 15 March 2004:
Up at 4.30, we raced the sun to arrive at the dunes with plenty of time, we thought, to run up the 120m high Dune 45 … after 20 paces of 2 up, 1 down, we realised that, as in “the hare and the tortoise”, speed was not the best strategy here. The early rise and hard climb were, without question, well worth it. Sitting at the crest of this glorious red wave in an ocean of dunes and watching the sunrise was one of those unforgettable, magical moments of a lifetime – this is what I came to Namibia for. To simply sit, mind emptied, fingers buried in the cold sand, to breathe the clean air, to hear nothing but the wind, to feel the sun slowly bring life and warmth to the sands and body, setting the dunes alight, their black shadows etching them into stark, knife-edged relief – the contrast is surreal. Other dunes: the highest dune, Dune 21, is 420m, “crazy dune” is so-called because the 2 up / 1 back is enough to drive anyone crazy.
Bruce asked us, in consideration of the environment, not to throw ourselves down the dunes, tempting as it might be. Other groups were obviously ignorant or careless of this and were subjected to severe scoldings by Katha. In the middle of our cooked breakfast at the base of Dune 45, she suddenly stood and ran to the dune, shouting and discussing with 3 people foolish enough to roll down its wall. We sat and watched, ready to run and back her up should things turn physical, fortunately for the perpetrators, it didn’t. After breakfast, Frans the Bushman took us further into the dunes. It was getting rather hot by now and the track very deep with sand. Imagine our glee (gloat!) when we came across a vehicle stuck in the sand. Identifying the 3 fiends of 15 minutes previously, we took our time deciding whether to help. Of course we did and once they were freed, Katha took the opportunity to tell them that this was just punishment and that they should, in future, take more care with nature – good for you Katha:)
Our walk with Frans was very interesting (albeit hot). He drew a map in the sand to show how there are two columns of dunes that run north-south, parallel to the coast, and which are separated by a river (usually dry) coming inland from the Atlantic. The force of the winds causes the dunes to grow in length and gradually meet, closing the gap between the columns, thus shortening the river and rendering the area where there is water, and thus vegetation and wildlife, smaller and smaller. Currently, Dune 17 is growing to meet its opposite. The end of this river is known as “sossusvlei”. Once two opposing dunes meet and the sossusvlei dries up, it becomes known as the “dead sossusvlei” and the newly situated end of the river is the “sossusvlei”. There is no vegetation beyond the sossusvlei. The only trees to grow are the “Camel Thorn Acacia” (Acacia Erioloba). “Ostrich Salad” is a bush used by the dunes as a base on which to grow. The winds blow from east to west in the summer and west to east in winter. Knowing this means you won’t get lost in this desert – according to Frans;) The black sand off the dunes is iron, demonstrated to us with the use of a magnet. The current “dead sossusvlei” is 1000 years old, the trees in its pan 900 years old. The roots of this acacia grow down to a depth of up to 80m deep, so are able to survive a very long time. Temperatures reach around 50° at 13.00 hours in summer and 39° in winter. The sand on the “iron” side of the dunes can reach 80°.
Frans dug up a “sun diver” lizard, apparently easy to find by digging into the sand where it’s footsteps abruptly stop. Frans told us some ways to survive in the desert, e.g. by drinking the lizard’s blood for liquid – don’t eat it as digestion draws on the body’s fluids. The Bushmen conserve water in ostrich eggs, sealing the small hole with honeybeeswax through which they stick a straw-like twig from the acacia. They hide the eggs by burying them with just the straw visible. The straw allows the water to breathe and remain drinkable for up to 10 months.
The San Bushmen sleep under open skies, ready to move to wherever the food is. The San believe that the moon provides so, to show appreciation after a kill, they string together dried pods from the acacia, which they bind around their ankles and then dance around the kill for the moon to see. The moon can’t hear, so voicing appreciation is pointless.
If a man is interested in a woman, he tells his mother who approaches the parents of the girl. If there is more than one suitor, the first to kill an oryx wins the bride.
The San were forced away by the whites, who set up farms and boundaries, making it impossible for them to hunt without trespassing. According to the San, diamonds are a gift from the moon and easily spotted by the light of the moon. Soon they realised they could exchange diamonds for goods, however the whites became greedy and decided they could simply take the diamonds without payment. Many a whiteman came into sossusvlei to steal diamonds, only to fall victim to the San. As none ever returned, the whites thought there must be quicksand. (Frans told this story with much theatrical show of stalking and killing with arrows).
Frans was taught to recognise the footprints of his family members at a very early age, this as families often split up to hunt and gather. He also showed us how they can tell from the marks in the sand if someone is old, young, pregnant, etc.
After lunch and a swim, we set off for Solitaire, stopping to visit the dried ravine of a river that has gone underground and runs up to Sesriem. As we got closer to Solitaire, so the countryside changed to great plains of soft whispering silvery grasses, mountain ranges and lots of trees (the majority of trees are some type of acacia). I fell in love with the area. Solitaire itself is a cool little place with a population of about 12 and is renowned for the best apple strudel in Namibia – it’s truly scrumptuous! We descended on what they had like a swarm of bees so they had to bake some more. The sunset was breathtaking, the plains turned to liquid gold and the horses on the horizon made it all too unreal. This is a place of dreams and I could well imagine spending some time there. Unfortunately, !the only eligible man is apparently well bushwhacked.
It was the longest and most rewarding day of the tour – went to bed thoroughly exhausted and completely happy.
Tues, 16 March 2004:
I was well sad to leave Solitaire, had visions of myself riding out across the plain like some figure out of a Barbara Cartland novel … I’ll be back, but first I need to overcome my fear of horses! So we followed the long very windy road up towards Swakopmund, over the Kuiseb Pass. The terrain turned to rounded waves of rocky mounds, layered by different soils and minerals. Quartz, fool’s gold and many other minerals are just lying around to be picked up – Mum and Dave, you’d have a field day! When we turned west towards Walvis Bay, we seemed to drive for hours across what appeared to be a huge beach, ok it’s a desert, just sand, sand and more sand, and so very flat!
We stopped at Walvis Bay to look at the flamingoes and there were fish jumping everywhere, I’ve never seen anything like it … Bruce and I gave a little rendition of “Summertime”. One local fisherman was not well pleased with us and soon packed up his gear – would have thought he’d welcome a bit of diversity.
Swakopmund: almost everything has German names and many locals speak German. Weird to get Laugenbretzel in the middle of Namibia! Apparently it’s dangerous to go out alone at night, despite the majority of residents being pensioners – maybe it’s the one place on earth where the oldies get their revenge on the youngsters, although I didn’t see any of them whizzing around on stolen skateboards, shaking to their headphones. There are lots of activities in Swakop, quad biking, sky diving, sandboarding, etc.
We stayed at the “Dunes Lodge”, a great backpackers run by a lovely couple, it has an indoor swimming pool, bar, lounge/tv/video room, pool room, etc. It was great to sleep in a bed again! and to eat out! Absolutely no offence Bruce and Rulize, your food was always excellent, but, Italian!! Although I did go for calamari, despite the pizza oven. That night I had 4 penalties* to drink. Dinner was followed by a night long of shaking down our food (probably a bit more energetically than the way Frans told us the bushmen do it) at the Grüner Kranz.
*Penalty: calling Marley anything but “Marley” or “truck” results in a penalty. A penalty consists of doing the Springbok dance and ends with drinking a Springbok (a shot of Amarula and some mint liquor) without using hands, i.e. picking up glass with your mouth and ex-ing it. For some reason I had an aversion to calling Marley a truck and I believe, by the time I left the tour at Etosha, I had broken the penalty record.
Wed, 17 March 2004:
I thought today might be my last, as I was planning to do the most daring thing of my life to-date, if you don’t count hitchhiking to Bournemouth and spending the weekend in a housefull of Hell’s Angels at age 16. I went sky diving!!!
I kept my intentions quiet as I wasn’t sure if I’d really go through with it. Fortunately only myself and Ed were up for it, and Bruce came along to make sure we didn’t chicken out. Throwing yourself out of an airplane at 10’000 feet is just NOT natural but, in hindsight, it was incredible and I’m so glad I did it. Although, contrary to predictions, I am not addicted and WON’T be doing it again! I didn’t want a video taken, being fully aware of how I’d look, lips and cheeks flapping, eyes popping out of my head, as we plummeted at 120k per hour towards good ol’ Mother Earth. Before we left safe ground, I checked that my tandem diver had children and was therefore quite keen to land safely. I also took his name, Ant, as a good omen – who’s ever heard of an ant not surviving a fall? The third sign was that Bruce didn’t say goodbye, so I guessed he believed we’d return – found out later that he’d simply passed out.
The flight took about 35 minutes, the view amazing, I didn’t want it to end, pretended all was well – I think the grin was due to petrification. Suddenly it was time to go. Ant hung me out of the plane and we were falling. We dropped headfirst (as Matt told me later – he’s the one sitting behind Ed) and then evened out. I thought I was doing well until I felt Ant doing something, so I grabbed his arms – poor guy was trying to open the parachute so he gently disentangled himself and did the business. Matt told me that he was about to approach us and give us a smile and thumbs up when he saw my panic and backed off, not wanting to endanger himself. I bumped into Matt a few times, finally on the coach back from Windhoek to Cape Town, and found out more of what happened on my sky dive. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling too bad during the free fall, attached to Ant by 4 hooks. The ground seemed so far away and abstract, dealing with breathing was the only real challenge. However, once Ant opened the parachute, he released me from the bottom 2 hooks and dropped me down in the harness, apparently to make landing easier. I wasn’t having any of this and spent the whole of the parachute part with my arms wrapped firmly around Ant’s legs behind me. I apologised but explained that I was NOT going to let go. I was now well petrified, the ground was getting closer and the realisation of what I was doing and where I was hit me hard. I was also choking in my harness but was certainly not going to tell Ant for fear he might adjust it and drop me! Fortunately, there must have been some blood left in Ant’s legs as we landed gently and safely.
I didn’t exactly gibber and grin like an idiot after landing, the usual reaction according to Bruce – at least, I hope I didn’t, Bruce? – but I have never been so glad to touch the ground, well, not since that time I came down from a bad trip on mushrooms when I actually lay down and kissed it. We were treated to a well-deserved ice-cold Windhoek by Bruce. Mine disappeared real quick, Ed’s very slowly. We found out then that he had a lousy hangover and spent the curving parachute part of the drop trying to hold on to his stomach contents … his “flight cancelled” t-shirt was more than appropriate;)
Spent the rest of the day just glad to be alive, drinking beer, doing a bit of shopping, etc. Apart from the adrenaline kicks, there’s not much going on in Swakop. After dinner at the lodge we went on to the Grüner Kranz … it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all. Our contribution to this was to paint our nails a disgusting green. (We were condemned to walk around like this for days until someone got it together enough to buy some nailpolish remover.) The evening turned out to be quite tame, being all partied out from the night before. Although I did manage to stay out till the break of dawn, what’s new?!
Thurs, 18 March 2004:
We left Swakop and headed up the coast to the seal colony at Cape Cross. The noise and smell of over 100’000 seals is overwhelming. My stomach literally turned over and there was an emergency rush to the loo – most embarrassing!
We then turned inland and drove to Spitzkoppe, a very beautiful area of huge, smooth, red boulders set down on plains of silvery grasses. It reminded me very much of the Ayers Rock and Olgas in Oz. It was incredibly hot, so we spent the afternoon cooling off at the rock pool, remaining up there to watch the sunset.
After dinner we were taken into a sort of cave formed between the boulders, to where Bruce and Charles had set up a bar. Candles on the walls and a fire at the far end lit up the cave, and the coolbox was in pride of place. It was beautiful, very romantic and cosy. Except for a huge boulder, which seemed to hover above us, the stars were visible above. Some of us spent the night there, slightly worried about the boulder possibly falling, others slept up by the pool, slightly worried about the bats, scorpions and leopards. We were joined by another group although there was not much mingling as they were on a different plane. However, the guide was really very funny, amusing us with his stories. Wasn’t too impressed by the piece of plastic from a drip, which is slowly migrating along his arm – souvenir of a stay in hospital in Dar!
Fri, 19 March 2004:
We were up early onto the rocks to catch the sunrise. During breakfast I was hanged by the neck from the truck. I thought I did it pretty well actually, dressing my daypack up with my orange trousers and t-shirt, jerking it down off the roof to shouts and gurgles and propping my head over it in the doorway of Marley. It was obviously too early in the morning for sleepy campers and they just looked at me and asked if I was ok. (This game of who-dunnit was initiated the previous evening).
Anyway, after I regained my dignity, we headed off to see some San rock paintings. Unfortunately they’re very faded, not least owing to clever tourists who spray them with something to make them more distinguishable for photos. It was a very long drive to Etosha, giving us all a chance to catch up on some sleep. The skies were incredible, these were virtually the first clouds we’d seen. On our drive in we saw springbok, oryx, a wonky-horned red hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and kudu. We arrived in Etosha in time to climb a tower and watch a very beautiful sunset. After dinner, we sat around the waterhole for some time, but didn’t see anything. According to Aylin and Niamh the following morning, rhino and other wildlife turned up to drink about half an hour after we left!
Sat, 20 March 2004:
Up early for a 3-hour game drive, we saw pretty much the same as the day before. The terrain consists of great flat plains with low bush and then areas of dense vegetation – this is obviously where all the animals hide, and the huge white salt flats. At 28’000 km2, Etosha is enormous. We had chill time at the pool before lunch, which was delicious – pancakes with banana, cinammon, syrup and sugar – bliss! Rulize, you’re a star:) Today was a culinary highlight, having started with porridge:)
After lunch I tried my hairdressing skills out on Niamh – she seemed happy enough – then we packed up camp and took a game drive on our way to the next site. This time we saw 3 rhino! They move so fast, didn’t get to see much apart from their rear ends. We drove out onto the salt pan to take group photos up to our knees (well, the heavier amongst us, anyway) in clay and salt.
There was a moment of panic, as we arrived late to find the camp closed for the night. Bruce scaled the gates and wangled us in. I’d like to believe they wouldn’t have left us out there with the lions … After dinner we hit the bar and amused ourselves with a drinking game called “which witch”, theoretically very simple and yet disturbingly difficult in practice, hey Rebecca?;) By this stage I had 17 penalties to catch up on, so I decided that, rather than drink myself unconscious, I’d buy few more and turn it into a round. So, on my last evening, we all did the Sprinkbok together. After ex-ing his springbok, Markus passed out – or so we thought. He’d actually been murdered. Another uneventful evening at the waterhole … I got lost on my way back to camp and was on the verge of panicking when Ed found me. Kirstin, my tentmate, was stabbed to death that night. I felt so lousy, incapable of preventing this tragedy!
Sun, 21 March 2004:
Another early start, my last morning, tried hard not to feel sad but to enjoy every last minute with this great group. They were going on to Victoria Falls, but my planned flight up to Nairobi on 31 March meant I didn’t have time to continue. We drove through the park and spent some time watching a pride of 11 lionesses and cubs, who were just finishing feeding off their kill. This and the long drive delayed us, arriving into Mokuti Lodge just as my plane taking off. So the group left me there to spend a long day and night alone at the lodge, a 4 star, very beautiful, consisting of low thatched buildings and bungalows, a beautiful pool area and a reptile park, birds and squirrels everywhere.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like doing anything, just took a shower and slept pretty much through till the next morning, exhausted and overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and experiences of the past 10 days. To be away from everyday reality, to eat, sleep, breathe, do just about everything with a group of people 24×7 without any modcons binds you, is incredibly intense. Suddenly to be alone again left a huge, physical gap that hurt. But then, this is what I’ve come to Africa for, to get away from the comforts of civilisation for a while, to rekindle my senses, to get back to and put myself in the context of nature, in all its forms, beautiful and harsh – allowing myself to flow under the influence of what’s around me, what I see, smell, touch, hear and taste, also, more importantly, what I feel and sense, wonderment, joy, also hurt – getting in touch with nature and myself.
Mon, 22 March 2004:
My Air Namibia flight down to Windhoek left at 09.30. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy, so the flight wasn’t very scenic. The warnings plastered all over the Chameleon Backpacker’s in Windhoek put me off bothering going into town, so I just hung about reading by the pool. Great place to stay, really friendly people, thatched buildings and bar, pool, etc. – highly recommended. Spent the evening getting talked at by a guy called Ollie, probably quite a nice guy but the numerous mentions of being single and dreaming of a wife and kids , coupled with the ins and outs of changing gearboxes and building safari vehicles prompted me to opt for an early night. His promise to be back the next night was cause for trepidation.
Tues, 23 March 2004:
Spent the better part of the day in Windhoek, booking my Intercape ticket down to Cape Town, drinking cafe latte at the Mugg & Bean, getting a fix at an internet cafe and browsing for secondhand books. Some aspects of civilisation are quite pleasant That night, as promised, Ollie returned to bore me some more. It took him a good hour of looking at my half-turned back, with my eyes straying to my book to realise that I wasn’t interested in being sociable. He graciously left me to my book, which of course prevented me being able to go and chat to anyone else at the bar. Never mind, wasn’t in the mood, although Odeon’s invitation to share a hot shower at midnight put the smile back on my face, not that I was taking him up on it.
Wed, 24 March – Thurs, 25 March 2004:
Spent the day by the pool, reading, writing and gassing with Odeon. By now I was seriously looking forward to getting back to Cape Town and my laptop. I got a lift to the bus terminal in good time for the 6pm departure … I had a long 18 hour trip ahead of me. Thankfully my mp3 player and books kept me in good stead. We stopped at various places through the night, people stumbling about, zombie-like, punchdrunk from sleep. Felt very nostalgic at 3am when we had to get out at the Namibian/South African border to go through formalities … was it really only 14 days ago that I passed through in the opposite direction? I wore my camera batteries out, looking at the photos again and again and, when we passed Gekko Backpackers in Clanwilliam, it was all I could do to stop myself jumping ship (or bus … sorry, really seem to have trouble naming vehicles for what they are, hey Marley!;)) Matt and his girl Carol were also on the bus, so it was nice to have someone to reminisce with. The bus arrived into Cape Town central at 12.30 and that was it – back, safe and sound, with a backpack full of sand, dirt, stones and twigs, as well as the echoes of the voices, sights and sounds of the past 2 weeks.
The best introduction to my new life in Africa that I could have wished for, thanks for the trip of a lifetime Nomaders
PS. Some of you need to empty your mailboxes.